Right from the jump, even before you drop the disc in the player, Steve Spacek makes sure you know that he is the coolest, yet most woebegone sumbitch that you'll ever come across.

On the cover of the new album, Vintage Hi-Tech, Steve Spacek, producer Morgan Zarate and instrumentalist Edmund Cavill stand in a barren field in the dead of night. With a soul patch under his bottom lip and a tousled do, Spacek is draped in a long black overcoat. An unlit cigarette dangles from his left hand.

Spacek's smooth hipster pose suggests a man who not only longs for the swinging, nocturnal hedonism of his musical mentors (he's a Sinatra trying to get by with a makeshift Rat Pack) but also a man whose dark stoicism renders him a perpetual outsider. He's so cool, he's unattainable; he's so hip, no one dares broach his aura. He's Steely Dan's perennial portrait of the embittered, isolated night crawler realized. Even before he spends all nine tracks of Vintage explaining his plight, Spacek comes across as the lone lounge lizard of the Apocalypse.

As the title implies, Vintage is nine tracks of Spacek and his partners invoking an old-school aesthetic over 21st-century blips and glitches. No mere postmodern subversives, the members of Spacek see themselves more as revisionist romantics, with Steve Spacek serving as the lead lonely heart.

On "It's Not Gonna Happen" and "Light Up My Life," the catchiest songs here, Spacek paints himself as a meek, sympathetic significant other to a bunch of emotionally unavailable women and their hang-ups. At least, he reassures himself, he has a significant other. ("I'm not used to things this way / But I feel OK / 'Cuz I'll come around," he coos pitifully on "Light…")

But Vintage is more than a mere collection of torch songs for the codependent set. Comfortably nestled somewhere between trip-hop and blip-hop (flip-hop, perhaps?), the trio prides itself on its cheeky musical minimalism. Indeed, their quirky hooks and sonar-inspired riffs are so quiet, it sounds like they cut the album while trying hard not to disturb other bands in adjacent studios.

What's surprising is that the sound they establish on Vintage is in stark contrast to the fluid flow they created on their debut, Curvatia. The compositions on Vintage are more solid, more succinct and darker than the broad, acid-jazz/soul stew they stirred with their first album, and Vintage finds Cavill and Zarate spending more time at play with their toys, creating batty, fresh-off-the-PC grooves.

Meanwhile, Steve Spacek goes off on some soul-searching, mortality-questioning, existential jive on a few numbers, as a few lines from "Time" attest: "It takes a little time to get in the zone / A place where I can roam / Then time disappears, and I'm all on my own / I wish that I can stay forever."

But it's on "Amazing" that Spacek offers the most of his take on the grand scheme of things. Starting off with a coiling, spangly backbeat, "Amazing" then blends in a loop of Zarate's daughter Lola, either laughing or crying -- it's hard to say which. To top it all off, Spacek waxes poetic: "Life's so amazing, you see / It still feels so incredible to me."

So even when Spacek sets himself up as one bad brotha all alone in this world, he's still optimistic enough to stick around. Just like Ol' Blue Eyes, Steve Spacek is gonna live until he dies. Herron

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Craig D. Lindsey
Contact: Craig D. Lindsey